Big Ten Spring Football Review: Iowa

Iowa is hoping to build off a bounce-back season in 2013, but the Hawkeyes suffered some big losses to graduation on the defensive side of the ball.

Quick 2013 review:

The Hawkeyes bounced back from a disappointing 2012 to be one of the better teams in the Big Ten last season. Iowa opened the season on a down note by dropping a three-point game to Northern Illinois then won four in a row before losing back-to-back games to eventual Big Ten division winners Michigan State and Ohio State. They split their next two then won their last three games of the regular season, including a rousing 38-17 win at Nebraska in the finale, before dropping the Outback Bowl 21-14 to LSU. There was nothing too fancy about Iowa, which could be considered MSU Lite (or Minnesota Heavy?) after using the formula of a strong defense and a good running game to succeed last season. The offense was just 84th in total yards but 50th in rushing (compared to 93rd in passing). The passing game not only lacked yardage but also efficiency as the Hawkeyes were 10th in the Big Ten in both efficiency and completion percentage. Defensively, they ranked ninth nationally and third in the Big Ten in total yards allowed thanks to a national top 10 pass defense and national top 20 run defense. Iowa also checked in in the national top 20 in passing efficiency defense and trailed only Michigan State in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes had problems in the red zone on both sides of the ball, particularly with an offense that was 105th nationally and 11th in the Big Ten in that category.

As far as Football Outsiders rankings, Iowa's passing game gets a boost up to No. 57 in offensive S&P+ (measuring a combination of efficiency and explosiveness), and the Hawkeyes were about equally effective on standard downs (64th) and passing (61st). Meanwhile, the Iowa defense looks elite on both standard downs (eighth) and passing downs (11th) while checking in seventh nationally against the run and 13th against the pass in defensive S&P+.

Spring game recap:

No score was kept during Iowa's public scrimmage April 26, but Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette compiled statistics. Per Morehouse, No. 2 quarterback C.J. Beathard completed 21 of 39 passes for 349 yards and a touchdown while returning starter Jake Rudock was 11 for 22 for 165 yards with a touchdown and an interception. With the coaching staff choosing to limit the exposure of top running back Mark Weisman to hits, a bevy of running backs had their turn with Jordan Canzeri, Akrum Wadley and Barkley Hill all popping for more than 20 yards but less than 30 as the scrimmage focused more on the passing game. The top recover was Derrick Willies, who piled up 142 yards and a touchdown on five catches. Sophomore cornerback Desmond King had an interception while tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat had a pair of sacks.

Issues addressed:

Iowa entered the spring needing to replace more than half its starters on defense while looking to improve on the offensive side of the ball.

Regarding the latter, Morehouse writes that Beathard's spring could foretell a larger role this fall (unless it doesn't) than he had last year after losing a QB derby to Rudock, who went on to threw for 2,383 yards with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

The emergence of another playmaker to complement talented returning starter Kevonte Martin-Manley could make a big difference as well, and that is where the emergence of Willies could be notable.

"Derrick Willies has really had a good spring," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "He's getting more confidence. He had a big day down at Valley (in a previous scrimmage) and that really kind of carried over to since we left there and so he's playing with a lot more confidence. So we're very pleased with what he's done. Matt VandeBerg will be the other, although he did play some as a true freshman, he has really stepped up and he's a guy that can play more than one spot."

The offensive line also needed two new starters, and Davis admitted he would like to see more depth on that unit.

"I think the first group has come along pretty well this spring, but we are real concerned about the depth along the offensive line," Davis said.

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Phil Parker identified senior Quinton Alston as the new starter at middle linebacker with competitions continuing at several other positions, including one starting end, one starting cornerback and the other two linebacker spots.

Reggie Spearman and Josey Jewell started at the outside linebacker spots with Cleveland Glenville alumnus Sean Draper at corner opposite returning starter King and Jordan Lomax, a former corner, joining Ohio native and returning starter John Lowdermilk at safety in the final scrimmage. Another linebacker candidate, Travis Perry, missed the scrimmage with an injury.

"Reggie Spearman I think has done a real good job," Parker said. "I think right now we have moved some other guys behind him. I think Jewell has been a guy that we moved back outside because Travis Perry is out there right now obviously, experienced guy, knows exactly what we are doing in the defense and you know, he's been sick a little bit, so we had opportunity to have some other guys role in there.

"One of the guys, Jewell, has really showed up out there, just as a football player. He was an inside backer behind 'Q' and Reggie, really as a backup (weak-side linebacker). And we look at it and say, who is the guy going out and making plays. You just watch the film and you just watch the guys running around on tape and you see him tracking guys down. Somewhere, he's going to have to fit in our system, okay, because when you give that much effort and you attack the football the way he does and make plays the way he's done, he's going to probably show up. Does he know everything right now? Not yet, but he still has a long way to go."

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